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Issue 308 – May 11, 2012

Rule No. 75:
• You can fix the blame, or you can fix the problem; take your pick.
Do we have great readers here? You bet we do! Here’s a note by Chris, from the BSA’s National Advancement Team:

Thanks Andy,
Our Twitter followers increased by about 50% thanks to you, and there were lots of re- tweets! You’re the man! (Chris, Advancement Team, Program Impact Department, BSA-Council Operations)
Dear Andy,

I’m Patrol Leader of a patrol of six guys. We’ve all been in our troop for a couple of years. We get along good and like to go camping when our troop has camp-outs. But we’re all in sports. A couple of us play Lacrosse, a couple play Football, and one runs Track. So we’re not always all six of us when the troop goes camping, because a couple of us usually have a game or meet on the same weekend. When we’re getting ready to go, we plan our menu together, and one of us does the food-buying, even if only four of us can go on this or that trip. But then, when we get there, our Scoutmaster tells us we’re too small to be a patrol, and he busts us up. He’ll put two of us with one patrol and two of us with another. Or sometimes he assigns two Scouts from other patrols to us, “to bring the patrol up to a better size.” We’re fine being just four of us! We all get along, so not matter which four it is, we’re good with that. How can we get our Scoutmaster to stop changing things. We’re a patrol, and we like to stick together. That doesn’t mean we don’t like the other Scouts in our troop; we do! But we like being a patrol, especially since we’ve been together since we were in the same Cub Scout den together. What do we do about this? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m going to guess that you’ve already spoken with your Scoutmaster about this, and probably said pretty much what you’ve just told me, here. Which tells me that your Scoutmaster must either never have been a Scout in a patrol himself, or he has several muskrats stuffed into each of his ears, or both. This means there may be just one option left: Stand tall and stand pat. Here’s how…

On the next camp-out, when you know there will be just four of you, before you get in your transportation vehicle and with your parents in full sight (clue them in on what’s going on), all four of you go up to your Scoutmaster and tell him that you’d like to stay together as a patrol this time, with no busting up and no “seeding-in,” that you have your menu planned and food bought for four, and you just need two two-man tents and you’re ready to go. Then stop talking, and listen. If he says anything other than OK (not, “well, we’ll talk about it when we get there” or anything else like that…It must be a solid OK), tell him that you four aren’t going if you can’t be your own patrol. Then go back to your parents’ cars and go home. DO NOT knuckle under or backwater on this: It’s done.

At the next troop meeting, all of you need to meet with him and ask, now that the trip’s passed, if he’s willing for you to go on camp-outs with the troop in the future even if you’re short a patrol member or two. If his answer isn’t an unequivocal YES, it’s time to find yourselves another troop, where the Scoutmaster isn’t so clueless about The Patrol Method and why guys like to stick together. Then, move there as an intact patrol.
Dear Andy,

I’m looking for information on the current BSA attendance policy. Our troop’s committee has adopted a policy requiring that Scouts attend courts of honor—literally, that it’s mandatory. I’m thinking that that sort of troop policy is in violation of BSA policy. I’ve read the GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT (No. 33088, 2011 Edition), including the part that says units are allowed to set attendance “expectations” in order for a Scout to be considered active; however, I haven’t seen an official attendance requirement. I’ve read your responses on this issue in several of your columns, and I’ve read “Scouting” magazine’s “Ask the Expert” response from 2009. Both of these confirm the idea that this sort of troop policy is prohibited; however, I need something more official. Is there anyone I can contact to get an answer? Or, would you be willing to revisit this issue (one more time)? Thanks! (Name & Council Withheld)

If your son is in a troop that has adult volunteers intransigent on this issue, it’s time to find another troop for your son (and maybe his friends, too). You’ve already read all the material you need. You will not find a BSA policy dealing with attendance as mandatory, because there is none. Nor will you find any sort of BSA attendance “rubric,” and any unit intending to legislate attendance would be better served reading the story of King Canute (both versions apply).

Scouting is a volunteer movement. Want to guess who the very first volunteers are? If you guessed “the Scouts themselves,” go to the head of the class! That’s right: It’s the Scouts who are the ultimate volunteers. They are under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to show up. It’s always their choice. This is why troop programs and program content are critical to the success and longevity of a troop.

Demanding attendance tells me instantly that the adult leadership doesn’t get what they’re supposed to be doing, or why. Trying to make Scouts’ attendance at any event mandatory will produce a dull, disheartened, and diminishing troop of sheep, not Scouts, which is precisely the opposite of what the Scouting movement is here to achieve.

So this leads to the question: How do we get Scouts (and their parents) to want to attend courts of honor—want to so much they all show up? Simple: Encourage advancement. When a Scout has advanced, by earning a rank or a merit badge, he’s recognized at the soonest scheduled court of honor possible. (No, he’s not given the badge then; he’s already received it at a troop meeting—the very first one possible following his successful board of review or after he’s turned in his completed “Blue Card.”) When Scouts advance, they want the recognition and their parents want to see them up there being congratulated by their Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Scoutmaster. So guess what happens? That’s right: They show up!

Any attempt at legislating attendance is ultimately doomed: It’s like the old joke, “The floggings will continue until morale improves.” It just isn’t going to happen.

Show your readings and this email exchange to the Scoutmaster (he’s ultimately responsible for the quality of the troop’s program—not the committee), and get a meeting of the minds. Then both of you (or more!) go to the Committee Chair and tell him or her how things are going to be from now on.

If this can’t or doesn’t happen, get your son out of that troop and don’t look back.

Thanks, Andy. I really appreciate your response more than I can
express! Sadly, my older son and I are sitting down tonight to discuss
moving to another Troop. It’s especially bothersome because he joined Cub Scouts because all of the boys in his 4th grade class were in the pack—They all received the Arrow of Light together (15 of them!) and crossed over to the same Troop, which was newly reformed. And they’re still together in a 6th grade accelerated program and they have encouraged other boys in their class to join the Troop as well.  Plus, my younger son joined the same pack. The Pack has a really great program. I just wish that were true for the Troop.

Move ’em all, my Scouting friend! Or, if you’re up to it, then all the Dads get together with the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair, eyeball-to-eyeball, and tell them that unless this malarkey stops instantly, you’re all outa there. You’ll be amazed at the power of 16 determined fathers’ voices, in unity and unison.
Dear Andy,

I’m trying to find out the meanings of the different-colored shoulder loops for the BSA programs. Can you please help me find out the meaning of the green loops for Boy Scouts, the blaze color for Varsity, and the dark green for Venturing? (Brenda Smith)

They’re “traditional”… Cub Scout blue shoulder loops come one of the two primary colors of Cub Scouting (blue and gold). Boy Scouting has for years been red shoulder loops, recently converted to green for a more “eco-friendly” and subdued look. Blaze was the original color for the “Blazer Patrols” utilized by Boy Scout troops sponsored by LDS churches, and later transferred to the Varsity program developed for use by LDS church-sponsored and other Boy Scout teams. Venturing shoulder loops are green, in keeping with the historic “forest green” color of the Explorer uniforms which Venturing eventually grew from. Silver for Commissioners and other district- and council-level uniformed Scouters signify the “highest” color in Scouting. And gold, used at the regional and national levels, are a “second-tier” technically “under” silver because these are largely “staff” rather than “line” positions.
Dear Andy,

Can you register just as a Scouting volunteer, not with a specific unit? (Sam Hencey)

Every BSA volunteer has a job to do… There are no folks “just wandering around” in Scouting. However, if you’re not connected with a specific unit, then consider volunteering to take on a responsibility at the district level; for instance as a Commissioner or as a working member of the district committee.
Dear Andy,

I agree that a merit badge has no time limits; however I think specific requirements of some merit badges may have time limits. For example, two of the requirements for Personal Fitness (7, Outline a 12-week physical fitness program; 8, Keep a log of your fitness program activity) indicate a time-span that must be adhered to: once the first diagnostic measurement is complete, a 12-week clock begins to tick.

As a counselor for this merit badge, I meet with Scouts three mandatory times during those 12 weeks: first to explain the requirements and do the first diagnostic tests with coaching for each Scout on how best to achieve his personal goals, second at the 6-week mark to run the tests so the Scouts have a “mid-point,” with further coaching if needed, and then at the end, for the final test. (Of course, I’m available to any Scout, in-between, if he needs counseling.)

My view is that the 12 weeks for this requirement are continuous and without a break. They’re not divided up over a year or multiple years. If the Scout can’t complete the personal log and aerobic evaluations during these 12 weeks, and show improvement in the required areas, he needs to extend his regimen. Is this your interpretation as well?

That said, the Scout can use all the work accomplished in the other requirements when he starts a new or extends his 12 week regimen; he doesn’t need to re-do the other requirements. Yes?

Lastly, I’ve seen Scouts who can’t accomplish a single pull-up. The requirement, in my view, is very clear as to what a pull-up is: “Pull up until your chin is on top of the bar…” So the question becomes: What constitutes “improvement”? If the Scout can’t do a single pull-up at week one, then improvement means at least one by the twelfth week—not an “almost chin made it to the bar” standard. Are we on the same page here? (Jeff Bittel, MBC)

Yes, the “sunset” for all merit badge requirement completions is a Scout’s 18th birthday.

Yes, the 12-week physical fitness program described in PF requirements 7 and 8 are intended by the BSA to be continuous.

Three standard meetings, with the understanding that a Scout can meet with you at any other times he may need to sounds just fine to me.

Yes, the BSA expects the Scout to record improvement in all of the fitness rubrics. Improvement may be just one more sit-up, one more pull-up, one more push-up, etc., than the starting-point 12 weeks prior, but it absolutely does mean improvement in all areas, not just one or two.

In this regard, to your specific example, if a Scout’s “recorded” pull-up count at the start of the 12 weeks is zero, then at least one pull-up at the end of the 12-week period is expected. The proper form for pull-ups is described in the merit badge pamphlet.

If a Scout hasn’t shown improvement in all test areas, this means that additional work is needed in whatever areas still need improvement, so that, with your counseling, he’ll ultimately succeed. It may not take another 12 weeks; he may need just one or two or three more, or even maybe 15 more, so he keeps at it till he’s there.
Dear Andy,

I’m returning to Scouting after several years away from the movement. I have a hectic schedule but still want go volunteer when I can. I’ve contacted my local district, and they asked if I’d be interested in serving as a Unit Commissioner. I’m an Eagle Scout, and served for about three years as an Assistant Scoutmaster before my hiatus. Do I lack the experience or age (I’m 25) to serve in such a role? I haven’t seen too many people my age serving in positions beyond the troop level, and the district and council Scouters I’ve met seem to have years and years of experience as Scoutmasters, Den Leaders, etc.. I don’t know much about operations beyond troop level, but I’m willing to learn. What are your thoughts? (Name & Council Withheld)

Being a Unit Commissioner doesn’t necessarily require having lots of experience, nor does it require knowing all the answers. Being a UC means, first and most importantly, being a friend to the unit(s) you serve. The second thing it requires is a willingness to find the answer when you don’t know it for certain when the question’s asked or situation arises. So, if you possess these qualities, you’d be an excellent UC! I’d say: Go for it, and enjoy the solid contribution you’ll be able to make!
Dear Andy,

About the question in your April 17th column about e-mails between an adult and a youth, all the information about this can be found in the BSA’s Social Media Guidelines at:

The section relevant to the question says: “As it relates to social media, two-deep leadership means there should be no private messages and no one-on-one direct contact through email, Facebook messages, Twitter direct messaging, chats, instant messaging (Google Messenger, AIM, etc.), or other similar messaging features provided through social media sites. All communication between adults and youth should take place in a public forum (e.g. the Facebook wall), or at a bare minimum, electronic communication between adults and youth should always include one or more authorized adults openly “copied” (included) on the message or message thread.” (David Colello, Mt. Diablo Silverado Council, CA)

Thanks!  Good stuff!
Hi Andy,

You recently had a question from a Scout about a badge for color guards. There is one. It’s called Second Class rank. The requirement to be a part of a flag detail has been there since I was a Scout. The idea of getting a badge or a patch for every activity a Scout does is tiresome… counterproductive in my opinion.

Some things we do in our troop utilize “TroopMaster” software. We place special efforts, like flag details for events other than troop meetings, under the “Special Awards” section. That way, it appears on our Scouts’ “history” profile for Scoutmaster conferences and boards of review.

Now, a personal nitpick… Any Scout groups that post the colors are a “Flag Detail,” not a “Color Guard.” The only time a Flag Detail becomes a Color Guard is when they’re armed (rifles or sabers, or simulations of same). This is fine for the armed services, but somehow I don’t think the BSA wants our Flag Details totin’ rifles! (James Flynn)

Good points all! I’m tempted to think it’s likely impossible to break folks of the habit of using the expression, “Color Guard” and getting them to switch to Flag Detail… It’s simply too ingrained and any effort is likely to be one of frustration—akin to the fact that, in the BSA there’s no “Class A” or “Class B” uniforms, either, but trying to change that one, too, would be about as successful as trying to teach pigs to fly!

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 308 – 5/11/2012 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2012]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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